Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Awarded $7.6 Million by National Institutes of Health to Study Peanut Allergies
Research will focus on those with moderate allergies
The Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has been awarded a five-year, $7.6 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, to accelerate its research into peanut allergy. The award, an Allergic Diseases Collaborative Research Center grant, will facilitate the Institute’s overall goal of developing an evidence-based personalized approach to the treatment of peanut allergy.
Food allergy affects up to 8 percent of children, while peanut allergy is estimated to affect approximately 2 percent of children, roughly 1.5 million children in the U.S., is typically lifelong, and is associated with a significant impact on quality of life. To address this, the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute has focused on several approaches: the investigation of epidemiological and clinical manifestations of allergies; identifying ways to diagnose allergies; creating better allergy treatments; and advancing allergy education and advocacy.
The $7.6 million award from the NIH will fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of peanut allergy, including a clinical trial of dietary peanut immunotherapy led by Scott Sicherer, MD, Director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Professor of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine, and Division Chief of Pediatric Allergy, and Anna Nowak-Wegrzyn MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine and researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute. While ongoing therapeutic studies have focused on a subgroup who react to trace amounts of peanut, there has been little study of the majority who only react to larger amounts of peanut. This neglected majority of peanut allergy sufferers warrants more investigation to understand how to identify and treat them, says Dr. Sicherer.
“In our research into oral immunotherapy, we have learned that we can give trace amounts of an allergen such as egg, milk, or peanut, and gradually increase these amounts to reduce reactivity (desensitization) to these allergens. Previously, the field operated on the assumption that recovery would be facilitated by strict avoidance, so in essence we have moved 180 degrees from this notion,” says Dr. Sicherer. “Peanut allergies affect a large population of children and this research will have a big impact on how we treat these patients.”
The study will characterize children according to how much peanut triggers an allergic reaction and will randomly assign children with a moderate threshold to continue avoidance or to ingest small amounts. “This is a new frontier for our group of researchers as we have previously primarily studied children who are affected by miniscule amounts of peanut. We’re looking forward to learning more about this group of children who represent the majority of peanut allergy sufferers,” says Cecilia Berin, PhD, deputy director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute and Professor of Pediatrics.
The grant will also fund research led by Dr. Berin on the immune mechanisms of peanut allergy, and will focus on immune pathways that affect the threshold of reactivity and on pathways that promote the development of tolerance to peanut. “We have developed advanced tools for studying many parameters of the allergic response to peanut using small amounts of blood. By studying how the immune response differs in those who can tolerate a larger amount of peanut, or who can outgrow their peanut allergy after therapy, our goal is to develop more effective immunotherapies for treating peanut allergy,” says Dr. Berin.
The grant will also fund research on identification of biomarkers and key driver genes of peanut allergy, led by Supinda Bunyavanich, MD, MPH, Associate Director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute and Associate Professor, Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences and Department of Pediatrics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Dr. Bunyavanich and her team will identify biomarkers of peanut allergic reactions and desensitization potential. According to Dr. Bunyavanich, there is currently no method to predict reaction thresholds for subjects with peanut allergy. Given two peanut-allergic subjects with similar clinical profiles, one may suffer anaphylaxis—a severe, sometimes life-threatening reaction—in response to minute exposure while the other may react with mild hives to larger amounts.
“Our project will directly address unmet needs in the management of peanut allergy by identifying biomarkers that predict reaction threshold and desensitization potential in peanut-allergic individuals. The project will also further our mechanistic understanding of peanut allergy severity. Although we focus on peanut allergy, we expect that many findings will be applicable to other food allergies,” says Dr. Bunyavanich.
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